Two recent reports on disability issues conclude that fewer working Americans filed such claims during the height of the economic downturn and that there’s a serious misunderstanding about disability and the value of income-protection planning.

Of those polled for the Council for Disability Awareness’ (CDA) Disability Divide consumer research, 71% thought disability is most likely caused by serious accidents when that’s the case for just 9% of long-term disability claims.

"These gaps in understanding such a fundamental financial security issue are alarming,” according to CDA President Barry Lundquist, whose organization recently began offering a new, printed version of its Personal Disability Quotient calculator.

"Employees need to be better educated on how likely it is that either illness or injury can keep them out of work for a prolonged period of time, and how they can protect themselves and their incomes from that risk," he adds.

In addition, 90% of the survey respondents described an ability to earn income as the most valuable resource in maintaining financial security, but only 37% considered taking steps to protect their income.

And while 65% of the respondents surmised that they could cover expenses for at most one year if their income stopped, 71% of working Americans are thought to be living from one paycheck to the next and nearly two-thirds of them do not have funds for emergencies.

One other significant finding was that 83% of the respondents think anyone can become disabled at any time, but most do not believe they are personally at risk.

Other industry research suggests that the recession had a significant effect on disability claim filings. The National Business Group on Health’s The Employer Measure of Productivity, Absence and Quality (EMPAQ) annual survey found that short-term disability claims fell 17.3% between 2008 and 2009 to 6.7 claims per 100 covered employees from 8.1 claims, while long-term disability claims plummeted 26% to 3.4 claims per 1,000 employees from 4.6.

Helen Darling, NBGH president and CEO, noted that "when the recession began, many employers anticipated their short-term disability claims would increase. However, this recession appears to have caused a somewhat opposite effect, with decreases in claims in 2009.  The collapse of the housing marketing and the unemployment picture may have caused employees to delay taking time off from work, especially for elective medical procedures."

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